The numbers paint a pretty grim picture for the GOP if Trump is nominated
A key problem Trump faces is the threat that a lot of Republicans (myself included) simply won’t vote for him in November. This, too, is a hard thing to measure at this juncture – when emotions are running high in a primary, it’s not that unusual to see people swearing they won’t vote for the nominee, then coming home in the fall. On the other hand, as (Nate) Silver reminds us, the high levels of party loyalty we have seen in the last four elections are something of a historical anomaly – it was a frequent occurrence from 1952 to 1996 to see nominees of both parties who lost 20% or more of their own party’s voters in November, either through aisle-crossing or to third party candidates (Ross Perot, George Wallace, John Anderson). Of course, a major reason for that is an ideologically polarized electorate, which Trump would alter given his long record as a big-government social liberal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First the numbers – since we don’t have poll averages, we have to go poll by poll.
Bloomberg Super Tuesday Poll: A Feb. 22-24 online poll of GOP primary voters in the Southern Super Tuesday states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) only two of which (Virginia and Georgia) are typically competitive in a normal general election these days. Trump has a 60/37 (+23) fav/unfav in this poll, compared to 65/28 (+37) for Rubio, an overall 37-20-20 lead on Rubio and Cruz, and a 48-44 lead in a hypothetical two-way matchup with Rubio. But in a vaguely worded question, 20% say they would “never” vote for Trump, and another 14% aren’t sure (only 10% would never vote Rubio, although 20 are unsure, numbers much more in line with soft disapproval from voters who would mostly come home in November). When given a choice between Trump and Hillary, 27% would not vote for Trump (9 for Hillary, 14 for a third party, 4 would stay home) and another 6% were not sure. That means only two-thirds of GOP likely primary voters in a set of mostly deep-red states would prefer Trump to Hillary. That’s an enormous red flag.
Democracy Corps poll: A poll by a Democratic firm hunting for opportunities, so these are results after some push-polling to see what Democratic messages worked with a “likely voter survey of 800 Republican base voters was conducted online using a voter file sample. The results were weighted to match Democracy Corps’ national likely voter data set for self-identifying Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who will vote in the Republican primaries or caucuses.” The poll shows that 20% of the Republican base could be induced to desert Trump in the general election, and indeed that self-identified moderates (even though they’re the group containing the most Trump supporters) would give just 60% of their votes to Trump against Hillary compared to 83% for Rubio...
The survey found that Evangelicals were not likely to desert Trump, but Tea Partiers, Moderates and Observant Catholics (the other three segments in the poll) were, depending on the anti-Trump messages tested – “[t]he strongest attacks on Trump charge that he is an ego-maniac who cares more about himself than the country, that he is very disrespectful towards women, and that he is a threat to national security and should not have control of our nuclear weapons.”
CNN/ORC national GOP primary voter poll: Conducted Feb. 24-27 – of 1,001 adults including 920 registered voters interviewed, the poll found 306 Republicans and 121 independents who lean Republican, and it was absurdly favorable to Trump, showing him with 49% of the vote and nobody else over 20. And yet, even in a spectacularly good poll for Trump, 48% of those not supporting him in the primary said they were likely to do so in the general election, including 35% certain they would not; only 25% of his non-supporters were sure they’d vote Trump in November. Rubio, by contrast, would find only 29% of his primary non-voters likely bailing on him in November, only 12% sure to do so. While the “won’t vote for them” contingents in this poll are pretty similar when you adjust for the baked-in support of their backers, this is a pretty alarming sign if you think Trump’s actual support is a lot less than 49%.
Fox News national poll, Feb. 15-18: 40% across both parties said the candidate they would most dread watching the next four years was Trump, 31% Hillary, 2% Rubio. Trump gets 79% of Republicans and 39% of independents, and 9% of Democrats against Hillary; Rubio gets 88% of Republicans, 48% of independents, and 12% of Democrats. 26% of Republicans and 57% of independents would be “not at all satisfied” if Trump won the presidency; we don’t have results for Rubio, but they asked the same question about Jeb! Bush and he did better than Trump, 22% of Republicans and 49% of independents. 67% of all voters in the poll said Trump lacked the temperament to be President, compared to 55% who said Hillary lacked the integrity for the job and 46% who said Rubio lacked the toughness.
Elon Poll of North Carolina: Feb. 15-19. Trump gets 80% of Republican votes and 48% of independents in head-to-head matchups with Hillary; Rubio gets 92% of Republicans and 55% of independents. Among voters of all parties, 38.7% said Trump was the worst candidate in either party running; 28.8% said Hillary; 1.3% said Rubio.
That’s only a sampling of polls, none of them all that conclusive, but every piece of data we have keeps pointing in the same direction.
The bottom line?
Could Trump beat Hillary in November? It’s possible – she could have a stroke, or be indicted, or a terrorist attack could level Los Angeles, or we could face a sudden financial crisis, or some other totally unpredictable event that would hand the election to any Republican. And of course, it is always possible that the world has changed so much that 70 million people will vote for Trump for no particular reason at all – that all the polling will be wrong, that demographics won’t matter, and organization won’t matter, and media coverage won’t matter. You never know!
But even in light of everything that has brought us to this pass, there is no rational reason whatsoever to think Donald Trump will be able to beat Hillary Clinton, and every reason to think nominating him would throw away an election Republicans otherwise would have a very strong chance to win.
In view of the electorate's attitude toward the kind of partisan obstructionism for which Ted Cruz is the poster child, I do not agree that he would be a viable alternative. We cannot exclude the possibility that a brokered convention might nominate a dark horse. But excluding that very real possibility, it is a virtual certainty that the name of our next president will be either Rubio... or Clinton.